Hidden agenda

Mayor Bell’s quest for secrecy makes life hard for everyone affected by city government, including himself


Toledo Mayor Mike Bell would have a hard time under any circumstances maintaining smooth relations with his fractious City Council, whose members rarely miss an opportunity to grandstand. Too often, their agenda, instead of moving the city forward, is to make themselves look good and the mayor bad.

Sadly, the mayor hands them plenty of opportunities. The secrecy and lack of transparency that are part of his way of doing business continue to make his life — and that of the city he leads — more difficult. Recent spats between Mr. Bell and council over the allocation of federal grant dollars illustrate the closed-door policies that define his administration.

Mayor Bell evidently plans to make a $100,000 grant from the city’s Department of Neighborhoods to the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo. The money, from a federal Community Development Block Grant, would pay the salary of the agency’s chief executive officer. Council members told The Blade that they were kept in the dark about the allocation.

A grant to EOPA makes sense. As Toledo’s largest black-run social service agency, it has for nearly a half-century played a central part in efforts to fight poverty and empower the city’s African-American community.

Factional disputes and leadership problems have made EOPA less effective in recent years. Next month, the agency’s $13 million grant to operate the local Head Start program expires, leaving EOPA without two-thirds of its revenue.

To continue its valuable mission, EOPA needs stable, accountable, and competent leadership. Because the city grant should help make that possible, it’s a good investment for the community. But the mayor’s clumsy handling of the grant has irked some council members and created uncertainty — apparently even within his own administration — about the funds’ status.

In a related issue, City Council members defied Mayor Bell’s efforts to cut them out of the allocation process and voted to restore federal grant funding to three homeless shelters. The mayor used his veto power to reverse those changes, but now appears ready to support the shelters from the city’s general fund.

All this drama has created consternation, uncertainty, and even fear. It’s no way to run a city. Citizens whose taxes pay for city government deserve better.

Whether Mayor Bell is required by law to involve City Council more in these decisions is not the issue. The point is, he ought to — not only out of respect for the democratic process, but also to make it easier for him to get things done.

Trying to out-muscle or end-run City Council at every step won’t effectively advance his own agenda. The mayor needs to learn how to work — and work with — council members.

Councilman D. Michael Collins, who is running for mayor, wants council to review how the Bell administration allocates federal dollars. “Their attitude toward transparency is obvious — it is not important to them,” he said.

Mr. Collins might not have the right cure, but he does have the correct diagnosis: Mayor Bell’s penchant for secrecy serves neither himself nor the city.